New Models Environmental Context: Part 3

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New Models Environmental Context: Part 3

Written by Shannon Dosemagen and Elizabeth Tyson

What’s Next

The health of our communities is in trouble. Our environmental protection and management system, despite best efforts, is failing to preserve, protect, and grow our natural resources. Historically, the free market has not bent towards what is best for the planet and its communities and is currently compounded by an ever-growing human population. Our attempts to correct through legal, regulatory and economic mechanisms are stalling, and the complexity of navigating these mechanisms is leaving us with little space to redesign them for a changing climate and a world that has been so significantly polluted upon that we should now be operating in crisis response mode. Though our legal and regulatory structures may have initially been designed to contain, check and balance unrestricted growth and provide guidelines for decisions about limited resources, there are far too many loopholes for this to happen in practice. Agents of unrestricted growth, such as extractive industries, have built their own structure within this system, but one that is dedicated to navigating and dismantling the force of legal and regulatory frameworks under the value banner of capitalism. 

We need a new system. One that recognizes that if given the option, humans at a coordinated scale will not always do what's right for harmonic living within the environmental constraints of our natural system allowances. Furthermore, those with the most financial capital will always continually have access to pristine ecosystems, while the rest will be subjected to growing waste. Instead, we need to start questioning and shifting the systems under which environmental protection and management now operate. In this writing, we’ve laid out the starting place for a potential model in which this can happen. It incorporates the ability for self-defined groups to check the decisions of the existing regulatory and legal arms as they are put into action against the backdrop of ecological integrity. It also allows for collective and coordinated contributions towards multi-level decision-making, giving weight to decisions that will restore, enhance and protect our ecological communities [8] while providing for basic human needs.

We are at a moment in history in which a convergence of crises-- the pandemic, racial injustice, economies in decline, and climate-- are rapidly converging. We’re also at a moment when the internet is reaching historic penetration rates, the technological applications built upon the internet are becoming available and accessible for communities, and our data practices and frameworks are maturing. In this combination, there is an opening to rethink systems. The work of environmental protection and management squarely sits next to how we address racism and injustice in polluting practices. Our solutions must address decades of environmental mistreatment, which are now amplified by the pandemic, which touches hardest, for instance, communities who have been breathing poor air quality for decades. And our solutions clearly have to cross many boundaries within the landscape of economic reconstruction. Now is the time for us to take what we’ve learned from having to navigate and interact in systems that uphold and allow environmental (and thus health) degradation, and make clear recommendations and steps towards a new model. 

In this blog series, we have laid the groundwork for a new model and now it’s time to start workshopping and interacting with it, moving it from theory to practice, breaking off small and near-term pieces while we think longer-term about structural shifts. We are starting with an intentional focus on first improving the existing public input process within the administrative state. In parallel, we will be working through a new environmental data and information system that can provide a local/self-defined group a method to “check-and-balance” the existing environmental legal cannon. This system will leverage existing and new information architecture and decision-making capabilities that establish a shared knowledge platform for which a multitude of science, data and information are welcome -- not just the ones that conform and respond to political, institutional or extractive industry will. Testing this model will take time. It’ll show us where we can really only just lay the groundwork with ideas, where technology and data ecosystems are intrinsically part of the solutions that are needed, and how we can generate law and governance practices that are responsive to the current state of our environment and the rights of communities for more integrated measures to be involved in decisions that affect them. 


[8] Used to note the multi-entity nature of communities-- humans and the surrounding natural ecosystems.